Illegal immigration focus for Tancredo

Former congressman Tom Tancredo speaks to the media outside Two Rivers Convention Center on Sept. 12.

In 1894, a 9-year-old Italian boy named Joe made his way to Ellis Island.

The boy, who was planning to head to Iowa, was to be sent back to Europe because he had no family in the United States. But with the aid of an Italian family immigrating here, he got into the country.

“They were going to send him back, so they put him in quarantine,” said the boy’s grandson, Tom Tancredo, who is running for Colorado governor as a member of the American Constitution Party.

“He meets this family who have their kids there (and) tells them his plight,” Tancredo continued. “The woman said, ‘Oh I think I can sign for you and get you over there.’ She did, got him from Ellis Island to New York City, at which time she says, ‘Good luck, Joe. I think Iowa’s that way ‘cause the ocean’s this way.’ “

A legal migration? At the time, yes, says the man who’s become known nationally as a leader on the problems with illegal immigration.

Born in 1945, Tancredo was the son of a department store clerk and a meat packing plant worker, both of which were born in Denver.

He attended St. Catherine of Siena Elementary School and Holy Family Catholic High School in north Denver, and later earned a degree in political science at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

In high school, he spent his summers working for 85 cents an hour at the Elitch Gardens amusement park. After graduating from college in 1968, he made $6,000 a year teaching civics at a public school in Jefferson County.

“My wife, who was also working for the county, made $6,000 a year. “We had a little Porsche and bought a duplex, rented out one side. It was a good life, at least for us. Then we got divorced and she got the Porsche.”

Tancredo later remarried, and he and his new wife, Jackie, have two sons and five grandchildren.

During the years he taught school, Tancredo began to grow increasingly irritated at changes in the education system, particularly at a new state law that required bilingual education in the state’s public schools.

“In 1975, the state of Colorado was the first state in the nation to pass a bilingual education law,” he recalled. “At the time I didn’t pay much attention, but I’m teaching school and all of a sudden these kids I’ve got, they start taking them out of my class and putting them into Spanish-speaking classrooms. Most of them never spoke Spanish. I started raising hell.”

The next year, he won a seat in the Colorado House. His first bill was to abolish bilingual education. He never succeeded, but that stance and other conservative ideals made him a charter member of a group of state legislators known as “The House Crazies,” even among fellow Republicans.

Tancredo was re-elected to the Legislature twice, resigning his seat in 1981 to accept an appointment by President Ronald Reagan as regional director of the U.S. Department of Education.

His main job was to make the office as small as possible.

“I ran it into the ground as I was told to do,” he said. “The whole office was 222 (people) and it went down to 60 in about four years.”

Staying in that position until Democratic President Bill Clinton took office, he left to run the free-market think tank, the Independence Institute, in Golden. Five years later, the Republican ran for Congress, representing the 6th Congressional District in Denver’s southern suburbs until 2008, when he ran for president.

Tancredo said he’s kept his focus on illegal immigration throughout that time because he believes it’s the one issue that affects all others.

It isn’t about disliking people of other cultures or keeping them from taking away jobs most Americans don’t want anyway, he said. It’s about having one nation with people of many backgrounds working together.

“(Theodore Roosevelt) said nobody should be a hyphenated American. You are either American or you are something else, and that you shouldn’t be able to become a citizen here if you didn’t have the emotional ability to eliminate that other half,” Tancredo said. “If you do not have assimilation with immigration, Roosevelt said you end up with a polyglot boarding house, and that is exactly where we’re going.”


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